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Democratic Leaders Question President’s Military Proposals

By Elaine S. Povich and William Douglas
NEWSDAY

WASHINGTON

Leading Democrats Thursday cautiously questioned President Bush’s plans to further the war on terrorism trying to balance support with skepticism over the amount of military expansion necessary to prosecute that war.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said there seems to be “expansion without clear direction” of the war. He told reporters it would not “do anybody any good to second-guess what has been done to date. I think it has been successful. But I think the jury is still out about future success.”

Daschle added that before Congress commits additional resources to the war, “I think we need to have a clearer understanding of what the direction will be.” And he said the war will not be a success until Osama bin Laden and other leaders of al-Qaida are found.

Daschle’s comments came on the heels of criticism from Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., who pointedly asked administration defense officials about their plans for continuing or ending the war.

“If we expect to kill every terrorist in the world, that’s going to keep us going beyond Doomsday,” Byrd said. “How long can we afford this?”

Daschle’s comments brought immediate, harsh responses from Republicans.

“Disgusting,” House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, said in a one-word press release.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said: “How dare Senator Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have troops in the field.”

Daschle spokeswoman Ranit Schmelzer said the senator’s remarks were not meant to be critical.

Also Thursday, Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he has questioned the Bush administration’s plans for post-war Afghanistan. “There is nobody I know you can go to in this administration who can look you in the eye and say, Here is the plan,”’ Biden said.

Biden said one reason Democrats have been somewhat critical could be a lack of consultation with Capitol Hill. And Democrats, who have been willing to give the administration the benefit of the doubt, may become more critical as time goes on and details become more sketchy.

“Time is moving on,” he said. “And the longer the time moves on and the less you see of any detail of a plan, you’re going to hear more and more and more people, Democrat and Republican, saying Whoa, wait a minute, what does this mean?”’

Democrats even took on the Bush administration’s domestic war on terrorism. In a testy exchange during a House appropriations committee hearing, Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., charged that before Sept. 11 Attorney General John Ashcroft had turned down an FBI budget request for new counterterrorism agents, analysts and translators.